Autumn Break: See a different side of Dunedin on a bush walk
Nicholl’s Falls in Dunedin’s Leith Valley is a surprising find in a city best known for its urban adventures. Photo/Dunedin NZ
Dunedin’s outdoor delights add up to the historical and cultural highlights that make it a fun city to visit, writes Tim Roxborogh
Perhaps the whole nickname “Edinburgh of the South” for Dunedin is misleading. With Scotland among the least forested countries in all of Europe, I can’t be the only non-Dunedin-ite guilty of thinking that these Gaelic influences might extend to a lack of serious bush walks . But when your latest Dunedin adventure puts you just 10 minutes from the CBD and wading through a lush, green gorge overshadowed by native rock forest, it’s a reminder of how often perceptions can miss.
Dunedin deserves your tourist dollars this fall for all the reasons most of us already know. Beyond the town’s clear Scottish links, you have things like the stunning historic stone buildings that date back to the gold rush boom years of the 19th century. Whether Edwardian or Victorian, Gothic or Georgian, Dunedin is a must visit for anyone with even a vague interest in architecture.
Then there’s the vibrancy that comes with being a proper college town, not to mention the abundant evidence in the form of shops, galleries and street art that Dunedin is both a fashion hub and an arts hub. . Blessed with mountains, beaches, gardens and an endless photo-friendly harbour, these are the well-established calling cards of a city that was once the largest in the whole country; 150 years later it may have fallen to seventh (there are around 120,000 people in the greater urban area of Dunedin), but its credentials are as solid as its grand old public buildings.
But I’m always going to be drawn to the underrated and overlooked and it’s clear to me that Dunedin’s wet, wild and wonderful bushwalks don’t get enough mention.
There’s often a moment during a bush walk when you finally embrace the mud and stop putting so much energy into avoiding it. It’s liberating, and it’s also something to succumb to early on on the slippery hike to Nichols Falls in the Vale of Leith. Wrapped in a huge 5600 hectares of shady, tangled and dense bush, the bridal veil falls like thunder after recent rains. A mile-and-a-half walk from a roadside parking lot, they might be the destination, but those clichés about the trip ring true.
For starters, the forest is famous for glow worms which reveal themselves as soon as the last of the filtered sun disappears for the day. Then there are all the moss covered rocks and fallen trees that crisscross the river that runs along the bottom of the gorge. Ferns grow from all angles, including protruding directly from the side of the gorge’s surrounding walls.
Our hike took us over the gorge as it was precarious to our right, but for the return from the waterfall we decided to go all-in, jumping rocks and wading through ankle-deep cool water. Visually, it reminded me of an unforgettable day trip to Indonesia about a dozen years ago to a place called “The Green Canyon” near the town of Pangandaran in West Java. I never imagined that one day I would find an equal in Dunedin.
Then again, I also had no idea that a place as soul-nourishing as this is hardly unique to Dunedin. Just ask any joggers who hit the trails through Woodhaugh Gardens and the nearby Ross Creek Reservoir for their own personal fitness regimen. And a quick inspection of Google Maps will tell you that these truly remarkable stretches of urban forest form a larger green belt for Dunedin, but subtle enough from the main road lines that you might not realize their extent.
Add to that places slightly outside the city like the Organ Pipes rock formations on Mount Cargill – a geologically significant jumble of natural pillars surrounded by rainforest – and you start to get a much more complete picture of Dunedin beyond those old Scarfie cartoons.
As for where to stay, everything in Dunedin is pretty close, but you’ll struggle to do better than the hillside suburb of Roslyn. Minutes from the Octagon and overlooking the CBD and the harbor below, our Airbnb was a lovely three-bedroom villa surrounded by giant ferns. Our 2 year old Riley had her own bedroom with a portable bed, as well as a separate room especially for the kids filled with toys and books.
We could stroll through the cafes and playgrounds of the local village, admiring the architecture of the beautiful heritage houses that dominate this part of town. And as a launchpad to explore all those outstanding bush walks, my misperceptions of Dunedin told me it couldn’t exist, it was perfect.
For more things to see and do in the area, go to dunedinnz.com
For more travel inspiration, visit newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Department of Health advice before traveling at covid19.govt.nz